The ever controversial mastermind of Exeter Chiefs’ meteoric rise from the fourth division to Premiership champions, Tony Rowe, stated recently that he believes England will flop at this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. Given Exeter stars such as Jack Nowell and Henry Slade are increasingly vital to Eddie Jones’ plans, it seems a strange prediction to make.
However, Rowe, like Rob Baxter, has been the driving force behind the Chiefs’ success for well over two decades, developing them into one of England’s biggest clubs whilst pursuing a sustainable model based upon a thriving academy.
He’s a man, therefore, whose opinion carries a certain weight, and in an interview with The Rugby Paper Rowe said, “you say ‘if’ (Eddie) bombs, but I have no doubt he will.”
This is a pessimism that is unlikely to be greeted with approval from the England camp, but Rowe is a man renowned for his frank honesty. He even went as far as to predict Eddie Jones’ departure, “I don’t think we are strong enough. I can’t see us getting to the final so Eddie Jones may go.”
If that prediction was to be realised then Exeter’s Rob Baxter would certainly be amongst those touted as a possible successor, and for good reason, given his brilliance over the last decade as Chiefs’ Head Coach and then Director of Rugby.
Baxter has been head coach of Exeter since 2009, as well as playing for the Chiefs for fourteen years, ten of which were spent as captain. He is, therefore, an Exeter man through and through, and so Rowe is certain he would be able to resist attempts to poach him by the RFU, “I’m fairly confident that Rob, even if he’s had that conversation, wouldn’t be tempted away.”
For the time being, however, Jones remains the man in charge, and made headlines again last weekend when addressing the potential for his players to misbehave when in Japan, a la 2011 (when the dwarf throwing, ferry jumping antics of the English players managed to overshadow their poor showing).
“We’ve got certain values and behaviours that we want in the team,” he said, “we’re not going to be perfect, but I want the boys to enjoy Japan,” before admitting, “sometimes boys will be boys and that’s a problem.”
Jones also flirted with controversy last month when he suggested the English game was being held back by “battleground” politics and “the traditions of the game here.”
He has always been a figure who divides opinion, and ultimately all judgements will be based on results. For Rowe to suggest Jones would face the sack for anything less than a final seems exaggeration, but he remains bullish, arrogant and an unpopular figure amongst many, and expect calls for his departure should England fail to progress beyond the quarter finals.
Written by Joe Ronan